HL Deb 23 March 1925 vol 60 cc610-8

My Lords, it is with no feelings of ordinary emotion that I rise to address your Lordships on this occasion. It was only a few days ago that from this Bench Lord Curzon addressed your Lordships with his customary force and eloquence, and I am certain that, placed as we are in this situation with the Leader of our House just dead, I shall consult the general wish and desire of your Lordships if I move at once that the House do now adjourn.

On the present occasion I shall not dwell upon the brilliant career of Lord Curzon as a traveller, as a writer, as a great Viceroy, as an eminent statesman. The history of these things is before all men's eyes and I need not dwell upon them to your Lordships. What I would essay to do, in representing or in trying to represent your feelings on the present occasion, is to speak of him as we knew him in the House of Lords. We have listened for many years to his stately eloquence, and yet I wonder whether everyone outside realises upon what an almost unexampled extent of knowledge that eloquence was based, or what an all-embracing knowledge he possessed of the subjects with which he undertook to deal That knowledge was obtained, of course, by an unexampled devotion to public duty and an industry which was the amazement of his friends. That is, perhaps, the most striking feature of Lord Curzon's career—his industry and devotion to the public service. And, withal, he had a memory which forgot nothing of all that he had acquired by his industry and devotion. The result was that when we heard him speaking we knew that we were listening to words which came of a full knowledge—a fuller knowledge than was possessed by any other living man upon the subjects with which he dealt.

I can recall an occasion, not in your Lordships' House but nearby, when, two years ago, Lord Curzon addressed the assembled Prime Ministers of the Empire in the Imperial Conference, and as he passed from Continent to Continent and country to country, recalling the nature and extent of British interests in every part of the world, and as he illustrated them with personal knowledge—for he had been to many of the places in his time—and with anecdotes relating to the various leading characteristics of those countries, we watched the growing amazement of the representatives of those great Dominions who were dazzled by the knowledge and the eloquence to which they listened. There was nothing in the subjects with which he dealt that he did not study, and he had personal experience of nearly all the most important topics of our Eastern policy. In his work he neglected nothing, he spared himself nothing, from the day, forty years ago, when he entered the House of Commons until last Friday morning when the untiring public servant at last folded his hands.

I have tried to speak to your Lordships of Lord Curzon as we knew him in the House of Lords, but I should like also to say one word about him as he was known even more intimately by his personal friends. Our memory goes back in this respect for full half a century, and we remember from his earliest youth his masterful knowledge, his many-sided interests, his buoyant humour, his social gifts. I know that many of your Lord ships have witnessed them. He was a most attractive guest, he was an even more attractive host, and yet, my Lords, the great public service of this great character, with these great social gifts, was always conducted more or less in an atmosphere of pain. I do not suppose a single week passed in which Lord Curzon was not in pain. Towards the end of his life I doubt whether a single day passed without his being in pain. As he sat at this box and addressed your Lordships he was in pain, and I think we all must realise, and do realise, how highly it raises the merit of his great performance that it was conducted with such a handicap. I am sure your Lordships will wish to share the sorrow of his intimate friends, and will wish to show a respectful but a profound sympathy with the gracious lady whom he has left behind. I am certain, therefore, that I shall be consulting best the wishes of your Lordships by now moving, as I do, that as a mark of respect to the memory of the late Leader of the House, the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, this House do now adjourn.

Moved, That as a mark of respect to the memory of the late Leader of the House, the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, this House do now adjourn.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, my title to take part in your Lordships' proceedings is of such recent origin that I should hardly have presumed to intervene on such an occasion as this were it not for two reasons. The first is that the noble Lords with whom I am politically associated could not have remained silent participators in the tribute which we are offering by this Motion to the late Leader of the House. The other is that my personal relations with Lord Curzon, stretching back as they do over the best part of half a century, are such as perhaps to allow me a special claim to be the interpreter of our sense of the common loss.

It is, indeed, now very nearly fifty years since Mr. George Curzon, as he then was, and I first met. He was a schoolboy just about to leave Eton, and it fell to my lot to be one of his examiners. I have at this moment a vivid recollection of how, even then, he showed the readiness of resource and the unrivalled self-command which never failed him during all the vicissitudes of public life. Some years later, after the General Election of 1886, we—he and I—entered the House of Commons upon the same day. In that Chamber we always sat upon opposite sides and rarely voted in the same Lobby. But none the less we became united more and more year by year by ties of close personal friendship, which, I am happy to remember, withstood all the rubs and shocks of political conflict. When war broke out and when, near the close of its first year, the first Coalition Government was formed, he entered the Cabinet of which I was then the head. He was, and remained till I ceased to be connected with it, from first to last the most loyal and most resourceful of colleagues.

With memories such as these, old and yet fresh, I myself should to-day at any rate feel disabled from the task, for which I venture to think this is not, perhaps, the appropriate occasion, of anything in the nature of a critical appreciation of his remarkable qualities and his distinguished career. Those who knew him well may be content to leave that to the final appraisement of history, to which both the man himself and his career now belong. But I should be glad, with your Lordships' permission, for a moment to lay stress upon two of his characteristics about which there is not now, and never can be, any difference of opinion. He was rarely endowed on the intellectual side by nature and by assiduous cultivation with a rapidity of thought, confidence in judgment, and exceptional facility of expression both in writing and speaking, and with not a few, as your Lordships well know, of the most attractive arts and graces of the orator.

These great gifts he never allowed to rust, and what is more, he never hoarded them. He gave them all, and it was much that he gave, without stint and without reserve to the service of the State. If he sometimes seemed to exact much from those who were under him—for he was a punctilious master of the business of administration—they very soon realised that he exacted as much, and even more, from himself. Drudgery was a word that had no place in his vocabulary. Whether in India or here at home, from first to last through a long and strenuous career, he set, as the noble Marquess has said, and he followed, the highest possible standard of duty, of tireless and devoted industry. But none the less remarkable was the manner in which he maintained one of the most cherished traditions of British statesmanship in the width and range of his interests. He was never a mere politician. In scholarship, in art, in archæology, in exploration, in all the humanities, he was an expert who kept himself constantly abreast with the best culture of his time. My own University of Oxford deplores the loss of a Chancellor who, even in that illustrious line, will always have a special place in its traditions and its memories as one who stimulated and guided its steps in the adaptation of its curriculum and its resources through all the varied requirements of a new age.

Let me say just one further word, There are, I believe, few among his contemporaries who, despite the drawbacks and disabilities to which the noble Marquess has feelingly referred of almost persistent physical suffering, manfully encountered and kept at bay, have had a fuller or a happier life. He was happy, as those of us can testify who heard him barely a fortnight ago, speaking at that box with undiminished vigour of intellect and cogency and facility of language. He was happy, too, that he was spared at the last that which is perhaps the most tragic of all human experiences—the gradual dimming down of life and the stealthy, creeping inroads of decay. He stepped straight from the arena, unknowingly, to face, with the courage which never failed him, the supreme ordeal. A great and unselfish servant of the State, who, in that service, was always ready to "scorn delights and live laborious days," a man who pursued high ambitions by none but worthy means, who never sulked under the rebuffs of fortune, who never allowed himself to be soured by the disappointment of unrealised hopes, he takes an assured place in the long line of those who have enriched by their gifts and dignified by their character the annals of English public life.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just spoken knew Lord Curzon for longer than I have known him, yet I, too, had had an intimacy with Lord Curzon, shorter but more close than your Lordships may realise. Thirty-five years ago he and I were young men in London, with different outlooks, with different social surroundings, with different ideas about our careers, but an intimacy sprung up which was never checked and which kept us in a communication which was never long broken. In these days, as later, the distinctive characteristic of Lord Curzon was that indefinable quality of personality which it is impossible to resolve into abstract terms. Three things distinguished him then, as they did later: unflinching courage, a wide devotion to the State which always looked beyond himself, and an unshakable resolution when he had made up his mind. With these qualities Lord Curzon went to India as Viceroy. It is not necessary to agree about everything in his policy in order to appreciate how great an administrator Lord Curzon was there. I used to have the privilege of having many letters from him in that period, and I know, not by his testimony but by the testimony of others, that by his courag.3 and his determination to see justice done he redressed many an individual evil and put right much that a man of less energy and tenacity of purpose than himself could not have put right.

Then he came back to England, and he grew in this House to the position which was ultimately his. I think I am expressing the sense of many when I say that, great as was Lord Curzon's position, great as was the influence that he exercised, that which we looked to more, that which interested us most in this House, was Lord Curzon the man. He was a man in a high sense of the word. He had these qualities of which I have spoken, and his courage extended to this besides: the courage to endure. He struggled against physical pain, and he never let it thwart him in his duties, or deter him from speaking with that admirable command of language which was his in a supreme degree, when he had to discharge a duty to your Lordships' House. We shall look back upon his figure, we shall look back upon it as a figure which was that of a great Englishman, and we shall look back upon that figure with pride in our race.


My Lords, if I claim the privilege of adding a few words to the tributes that have been worthily borne to the life and the work of one of the foremost of our contemporaries, it is because the standpoint of my own experience is not quite the same standpoint as that of those who have so eloquently spoken to us to-night. The matters upon which I have been in touch with him during a long course of years, in addition to a personal friendship which I valued beyond words, related to problems which might often have seemed to men of great statecraft to be insignifi- cant or comparatively immaterial in comparison with larger things. But I speak of that which I have known in dealing with him upon problems—Indian, African, Turkish Mesopotamian and Russian—which cut down to the fibre of things, religious as well as secular, and wherein we had to deal with matters which some might treat as comparatively unimportant but which I believe, and he believed, to have a far wider importance than the ordinary observer might suppose and to need that quality of vision for seeing them aright which he in so remarkable a degree possessed.

The problems to which I refer were, to take recent years only—though I could go back much further than that, for I have had to deal closely with him for a quarter of a century—such problems as the conditions, past, present and future, of the Church of Russia, how it came to its present plight, what it is that it at present means, what may emerge from it in a new and stronger Church than before; or the position of that strange, ancient body the Christian folk of Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, with whom I have had much to do, and about whom he took an interest and showed a power of knowledge of the past, and suggestive-ness of resource as regards the future, for which I cannot be sufficiently thankful; or again, the tangled medley of the present position of the question of the Patriarchate of the East at Constantinople.

None of those were, or are, obviously, in the front rank of international politics or the political questions of the day. But I never left him, after conversing on any of those subjects, without feeling that he, unlike other men, was able to put these things in their largest possible setting and see the proportion that they had, and the relation that they bore, to wider and larger things. It is that largeness of vision which seems to me to have characterised both what he wrote and what he said, and in the many books with which he has enriched our knowledge of things, both east and west, there was constantly that note behind to which the noble Earl referred so well as that range of knowledge which he had laboriously, strenuously and indefatigably acquired, which enabled him to think and speak with larger knowledge than other people possessed.

I do not know whether it is out of place to say it, but I think that students of the eighteenth century must, if they have looked at and thought of Lord Curzon's life, have been reminded of the comments of the great historians of the century on the work, the oratory, and the character of Lord Chatham. The very phrases used to-night about Lord Curzon's stately oratory and wide Imperial outlook, recall the tributes paid to Chatham a century and a half ago. Testimony is ardently borne in each case to the man's peculiar wideness of vision. In the case of Lord Chatham it was sometimes supposed that he overlooked the petty things of every day. In the case of him of whom we are speaking to-night, unlike Lord Chatham his indefatigable, toil kept him abreast of the little things as well as the great. There was something in the largeness of Chatham's vision, and the aloofness of his attitude towards things of every hour, which was described as a hauteur towards all sorts of men. If any such phrase be used with regard to Lord Curzon it must in honesty be accompanied by our recollection of that power of his to concentrate his mind for the moment upon even the smallest details, and recall them afterwards, in a way which must, to many of your Lordships have been as amazing as it has been to me. Details which I understood, or thought I understood about some matter with which I was personally dealing, I found, although they had merely been alluded to years before, to be still fresh in his mind. I found, too, that he was able to call them up at a moment's notice, and then, out of his largeness of vision and keenness of intellect, to use, in a way which was to me simply wonderful, the power and gifts which were his for handling together the great things and the small.

I should not have intruded with these few words upon your Lordships to-night, but that I should have been sorry to have missed this opportunity of bearing testimony to the services which Lord Curzon rendered to the religious as well as to the secular side of international politics and of the public affairs of this country, in matters on which I was in touch with him year after year, and for which I owe him gratitude. I look back upon him as in some respects one of the greatest men whom I have known, and as a statesman whose example has been and will be a source of inspiration to us all.

On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente.